Pro-Kremlin website Baltnews.ee suggested that a discussion of press freedom at the Estonian Opinion Festival on 12-13 August was an anti-Russian propaganda event.
Event: In a 12 August article posted to the pro-Kremlin propaganda website Baltnews.ee, an anonymous journalist suggested that the Estonian Opinion Festival held 12-13 August in Paide, Estonia, was anti-Russian because it included a discussion—“Civil society in Russia: how to continue?”—that focused on press freedom. The annual event, a “word rock festival” that began in 2013, was organized by Open Estonia Foundation, which gets funding from Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros. It is a civil initiative, modeled on the socio-political Almedalsveckan festival in Sweden—which has been running for five decades—and on other similar ventures in Finland, Norway and Denmark.
The false fact or narrative: The article incorrectly argues that the festival is an anti-Russian propaganda event, that the Open Estonian Foundation and George Soros promote anti-Russian narratives, and that talking about press freedom in Russia is anti-Russian propaganda.
Reality on the ground: The festival, which aims to improve civic education, is a venue that airs diverse political views among all Estonians. The discussion was not anti-Russian, since it took place in Russian and all the participants were Russians. Moreover, that panel was only one of more than 200 public discussions that included topics such as “Our friend Russia: what to wish or expect?” which were friendly to Moscow. The issue of press freedom in Russia is not anti-Russian propaganda but a justified global concern. This year’s World Press Freedom Index ranked Russia 148th of 180 countries, and Reporters Without Borders is deeply critical of the situation there. “Leading independent news outlets have either been brought under control or throttled out of existence,” it said. “While TV channels continue to inundate viewers with propaganda, the climate has become very oppressive for those who question the new patriotic and neo-conservative discourse or just try to maintain quality journalism.”
Technique: No proof; conspiracy theories; ridiculing, discrediting and diminution.
Analysis: The article uses two narratives here: that Estonia discriminates against its Russian-speaking minority and spreads anti-Russian hysteria, and that the Soros-funded Open Society Foundation is an anti-Russian entity which promotes Western values. Pro-Kremlin outlets use both narratives often, but repeating lies over and over do not make them true. After Russia’s parliament adopted the 2012 Russian Foreign Agent Law and a 2015 law on undesirable organizations, the Open Society Fund was forced to leave Russia. The former says NGOs that receive foreign donations must register as “foreign agents.” The latter lets the government declare foreign organizations “undesirable” and close them, without any court action required.
Description of sources: Baltnews.ee is a Russian-language propaganda site in Estonia; it and similar portals for Latvia and Lithuania were launched in 2014. According to the Annual Review of the Estonian Internal Security Service, all three Baltnews portals are funded by Media Capital Holding BV, a Dutch-registered company controlled by people related to Rossiya Segodnya—a news agency wholly owned and operated by the Russian government. It also says one of the project’s founders was Vladimir Lepekhin, director of the Eurasian Economic Community Institute, which attempts to influence policy in Russia’s neighboring countries. Aleksandr Kornilov, who belongs to the local Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots and heads the propaganda portal baltija.eu, manages baltnews.ee.